While the overall outcome of the CYFD’s reform efforts are positive, implementation of the reforms present a number of challenges that must be resolved if the reforms are to be sustained effectively.
One challenge is to determine the appropriate degree of regionalization. Fairfax County places all of its assessment and ongoing case management personnel (except for those in the specialized sex offender unit) in four regional units. It is not yet known if this number of units is sufficient to achieve the desired connection to the communities. In a jurisdiction the size of Fairfax County, a larger number of regional units would ensure that CPS is community-based. On the other hand, the regionalization of staff has made it more difficult to balance staffing resources with the demand for services. The workload at the regional offices varies significantly; there have been times when a regional office has called in resources from other offices to handle a heavy workload and other times when an office shifted personnel resources elsewhere. If there is constant reshuffling of personnel in this manner, the benefits of community-based service may be compromised.
Another challenge from the perspective of the CPS program is the difficulty in applying the reforms successfully in other CYFD Programs. The Family and Child Program reoriented its services and focus to address the needs of a high-risk population whose situations do not rise to the level that requires a CPS response. Personnel in the Family and Child Program are accustomed to providing services to this population; therefore, the recent implementation of an Intensive Family Services model — which was designed to engage families more proactively — represents a major shift in the way that services are delivered.
There have been challenges in the Foster Care and Adoption unit’s ability to apply a community-based model to the placement of children who must be removed from their homes. Due to the lack of community-based foster care resources, children frequently are placed outside of their own communities, making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to benefit from extended family, friends, and other community supports. It is anticipated that the successful implementation of a community-based model for foster care will contribute to a higher rate of return to families.
There also have been challenges in the interactions with the other agencies expected to colocate with the CPS sex offender unit at the new Children’s Center. At the time of this site visit, some of the agencies expected to have a presence at the Center have not agreed to the details for a Memorandum of Understanding. There also was a concern that the additional resources available at the privately-operated Children’s Center, including private funding, better facilities, and access to media, could have the potential of causing friction with other CPS units. However, the personnel interviewed for this report indicated that these problems resulted largely from the novelty of locating at a facility operated by a private agency, and they expressed confidence that the positive vision for the center will be realized.
Finally, the interviewees voiced concern about a potential adverse impact from the implementation of the DRS on the CYFD’s budget, although there was some disagreement about this issue. There was concern that the new model will increase the demand for family support services and the time spent assessing and supporting each case and, therefore, increase costs. Conversely, the budgetary impact of the DRS could be minimal as Fairfax County has attempted to pursue a similar practice model for several years. Moreover, there is an expectation that CPS personnel will require much less time under the DRS to communicate with families about “findings” and to prepare for and attend appeals, possibly resulting in a net decrease in costs.